Derby Dioxin

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What Happened?

In the 1970s and 80s the Western Australian (WA) Agricultural Protection Board (APB) conducted herbicide spraying for noxious weeds in the Kimberley region of WA.

The chemical used was 245T. However evidence exists that a batch of allegedly fire damaged chemical was imported from Singapore, possibly ex-Vietnam war and was criminally supplied to Derby APB workers in unmarked second-hand drums by the WA Government APB. This was contrary to the Poisons Act. Samples taken from the suspect batch indicated a dioxin (2,3,7,8-TCDD) component of around 2600 times greater than the allowable limit implemented during the spraying program. Workers reported completely different physical characteristics of the suspect material when compared with normal 245T. Workers advise that one delivery alone of this chemical was enough to supply the Kimberley program for at least 15 years.

The supreme toxicity of this dioxin is undisputed. See our other notes on this page.

At the time of use, several workers became ill. A short while later the first of many premature deaths started occurring, together with birth deformities of babies fathered by former APB workers. More than 20 years later, the illnesses and deaths continue.  90 affected workers were interviewed, about 50 are already dead. Many dying in their 30s and 40s.

What has the WA Government done for its former workers and families?

The workers have been fighting for more than 20 years to seek justice and compensation.

No government employee has been charged with the criminal activity that allegedly caused this continuing tragedy. At the time of use when workers complained of illnesses and injury being inflicted upon them and sought an alternative, APB management wrote that adverse publicity is not a valid reason to discontinue use. Furthermore, the letter continues that the writer does not support the workers undertaking any research about 245T.

It is well known among the former workers that they were told, "It was safe enough to drink".

Despite the many deaths, total and permanent disabilities, birth defects, and ongoing illnesses the government has not even provided the basic Workers Compensation entitlements.

The government has conducted several inquiries while more workers die. Yet still will not accept the evidence or responsibility of supplying its own workforce illegally, contrary to its own regulations, with an unknown substance. Unknown, because it was unmarked. The workers substantiate the physical difference of normal 245T and the product supplied. Federal Tariff investigation proved a significant quantity of off-specification herbicide (Toxic waste) was imported prior to delivery of the suspected material to Derby. The story of the Derby workers is repeated in Queensland and Yarram in Victoria.

Tracing the supply of the so-called "rogue batch" always comes back to the same complaints, same material description, and same importation source.

Still the WA Government says there is not sufficient evidence, even though they should be alarmed by their own assertions that the material has somehow "disappeared into thin air".

Once again, check out the toxicity of this stuff on this page. Wouldnt you want to know where it is?

Chemical Sprayers Bush Camp
Permission from family of deceased.

APB management told workers, "Safe Enough To Drink."

CLICK HERE: ABC Radio - Prof. Andrew HARPER - ***Five minute AUDIO***

The most toxic dioxin is called 2,3,7,8-TCDD. Dioxins are produced as by products of the manufacture of some herbicides (for example, 2,4,5-T)

How can we judge the toxicity of dioxin (or of any chemical, for that matter)? One way is to look at the standards that have been set by regulatory agencies.

In the case of dioxin, EPA has calculated a "safe" dose, taking into consideration dioxin's ability to cause cancer. The "safe" dose is expressed in extremely small units: femtograms. There are 28 grams in an ounce, and one femtogram is 0.000,000,000,000,001 grams, or one quadrillionth of a gram, or 10**-15 (or, 10 raised to the power of negative 15) grams.

EPA believes that ingesting (eating) 6.4 femtograms (6.4 x 10**-15 grams) of 2,3,7,8-TCDD per kilogram of body weight per day would cause cancer in one in a million people so exposed (pg. 95). Since an average adult weighs 62 kilograms or 137 pounds (average men weigh 70 kilograms [154 pounds] and average women weigh 55 kg [120 pounds]), the EPA is saying that 397 femtograms of 2,3,7,8-TCDD consumed in food each day would kill one-in-a-million humans so exposed. Over a year's time, 397 femtograms per day add up to 145,000 femtograms; over a 70-year lifetime, this would add up to 10.1 million femtograms, so 10.1 million femtograms (or 0.01 micrograms) is the maximum amount you could safely get into your body during your entire lifetime, EPA believes.

How can we express this in terms that people can grasp?

Let's compare it to one single aspirin tablet. One aspirin tablet weighs 5 grains (or 325 milligrams, or 325 trillion femtograms), so to express one "safe" lifetime dose of 2,3,7,8-TCDD, you would take a single aspirin tablet and divide it into 32 million (actually 32,172,218) miniscule pieces. Then one of those tiny pieces would represent one "safe" lifetime dose of 2,3,7,8-TCDD.

Another comparison: A single grain of table salt weighs approximately 0.1 milligrams or 100 billion femtograms, so to get an amount of table salt that weighs the same amount as one "safe" lifetime dose of 2,3,7,8-TCDD, you would divide a single grain of table salt into 9,900 microscopic pieces. One of those tiny pieces would represent a "safe" lifetime dose of dioxin.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has its own way of calculating the same one-in-a-million cancer risk and they believe the EPA has overestimated the hazard by a factor of 10. In other words, FDA believes you could represent a "safe" dose of 2,3,7,8-TCDD by dividing a single grain of table salt into 990 pieces, with one of those pieces representing a safe lifetime dose. The federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta has done its own calculation, concluding that the cancer hazard from dioxin is about half-way between the EPA's estimate and the FDA's estimate. EPA says 6.4 femtograms per kilogram of body weight per day is the safe dose; CDC says the correct number is 27.6; FDA says it's 57.2 (pg. 95). No matter which agency does the calculation, there's no escaping the fact that dioxin is considered supremely toxic.

One other way to understand the toxicity of dioxin is to compare the dioxin "reference dose" established by EPA to the "reference dose" they have set for other common toxic materials. The "reference dose" is the highest amount they believe you could eat regularly without incurring any disease (not considering cancer).

The reference dose for dioxin is 0.000,000,001 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day (mg/kg/day) (pg. 94); the reference dose for the toxic metal cadmium is 0.001 mg/kg/day and the "reference dose" for the toxic metal arsenic is the same as for cadmium. Thus we can see that EPA considers dioxin in food 1,000,000 times (one million times) more toxic than cadmium or arsenic, not counting the cancer hazard from dioxin. Yes, dioxin is toxic, no doubt about it.
--Peter Montague, Ph.D.


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